We Don't Need No Stinkin' Civil Society


So, some guy in Michigan cashes in his fifteen minutes and announces to the world via Facebook that his auto repair shop won’t serve openly gay people. In an earlier, less enlightened era, the world – or at least those members of it in immediate need of a new head gasket – would simply have read this, maybe thought nothing of it, maybe rolled their eyes, maybe freaked out a little, and then made individual determinations (collectively forming an announcement of sorts right back at him) as to whether this establishment deserved their continuing business. After minimal investments of time, energy and thought everybody would have moved on.

Not so much anymore.

This old approach (kind of a “civil society” thing) after a pretty good run of four or five hundred years has long since been exposed by the deep thinkers of the new millennium (typically but not exclusively on the left) for the quaint and deeply flawed system it actually is.

To wit:

  • It denies people the frisson of moral superiority — which some would characterize as pornography for the self-righteous — to be obtained from the “two minutes hate” exercises (running the gamut from death threats to bitchy, sophomoric little “open letters”) that are now more or less obligatory on such occasions.
  • It hampers the ability of the hypothetically aggrieved parties to sufficiently exploit the manufactured outrage through media spots, public gatherings and thinly veiled shakedowns.
  • It provides no clear opportunity for governments to leverage the issue into a rationale for more regulation, control and taxation.
  • It is insufficiently distracting. People (of all persuasions) who simply conclude “well that’s a foolish position, I guess I’ll shop elsewhere” are free to let their minds wander to more substantive questions like “Why do we support regimes that throw gays off the roofs of buildings?” We don’t want that.
  • It contains no mechanism for forcing people to agree with you, which is anathema to anyone requiring unanimous, enthusiastic and more or less perpetual validation of all choices they make from cradle to grave.

Fortunately, the answer to these deficiencies was right there in front of us all the time, cleverly concealed in the peat bogs of the Middle Ages. Basically by gene splicing Saul Alinsky and Mark Zuckerberg (thus permitting the rapid dissemination of blood libels and general misinformation in attractive and popular formats) we have reinvented — on a scale unimaginable to the dung burners of old – mob rule and the “war of all against all”, which addresses the above concerns in full.

Admittedly, this new system takes a little getting used to (“getting used to” in this context meaning be hypervigilant in everything you say in every forum public or private, self censor whenever possible and become proficient in sniveling apologies when you inevitably put a foot wrong) and not surprisingly there been some early casualties – typically anybody who has said anything that offended anyone, any time, anywhere.

We are becoming acclimated though, and most people now seem to think it unremarkable that someone could post an ill-advised tweet about race and AIDS before a flight, have it create a firestorm of outrage in the Twitterverse before they reached cruising altitude, and find herself out of a job by the time she landed.

Or that the CEO of a high-powered Internet company could be fired for having had the temerity to contribute $1000 to the campaign supporting a “Yes” vote in the 2008 California proposition 8 campaign against gay marriage.

Thomas Hobbes coined the phrase “war of all against all” and admittedly had some troubling thoughts about where that all ended:

I demonstrate in the first place, that the state of men without civil society (which state we may properly call the state of nature) is nothing else but a mere war of all against all; and in that war all men have equal right unto all things.

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. […] In such condition there is no place for Industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual Fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

But never mind all that, this is war people, and those who disagree with us are not going to reeducate themselves. It could be that the mobs loosed on others — by virtue of limited intelligence, high suggestibility and ever-changing short-term self-interest — could be turned back against their masters at a later time (and this is not without precedent) but for many this is still preferable to the incremental, painstaking and often time-consuming process of actually winning people over to your side with rational and moral argument.

Besides, no one ever really believes these weapons will be used against them. It is likely as they were leading Robespierre to the guillotine he still thought it was all a terrible misunderstanding. That might be something for the political types who are relying on the mob to advance their agendas to reflect on.